Posts Tagged ‘ISEAS ASEAN Monitor’

M’sia: The only winners of GE 2013

In China, Malaysia, Vietnam on 12/10/2013 at 5:10 am

In the words of the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (ISEAS), a S’pore govt-funded think tank, in its Oct Asean Monitor

Barisan Nasional’s worst-ever general election performance in May has undermined Prime MinisterNajib Razak’s promise to reform the United Malays National Organization (UMNO) after he took overits leadership in 2009. Outside UMNO, liberal reforms are stridently opposed and resisted by extremist Malay-Muslim groups such as PERKASA and by UMNO-owned media, especially the Utusan Malaysianewspaper. Within UMNO, political momentum favours former Prime Minister Mahathir and his conservative allies, who support preserving the ketuanan Melayu (“Malay ownership”) status quo.

Recognizing that UMNO needs to be further strengthened after its failure to win a convincing majority of the Malay vote, many senior party leaders and veterans will not want the president and deputy president posts, held by Najib and Deputy Prime Minister Muhyddin Yassin, respectively, to be contested duringthe upcoming October party elections. However, the party’s three vice-presidential posts are likely tobe hotly fought over by the incumbents Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, Shafie Apdal and Hishammuddin Husseinand by three challengers, namely Mohd Ali Rustam, Isa Samad and, potentially, Mukhriz Mahathir.

Recent developments have further pressured Najib to follow through with his general-election pledge totackle corruption and crime. The 2013 Global Corruption Barometer report confirms the perception thatthe level of corruption in Malaysia has increased despite the government’s claims to the contrary. Publicconfidence in the corruption-tainted police force received another huge blow from the recent spike inviolent crimes, including more than 30 murder attempts in the past five months.

Because of the country’s deteriorating public finances, a global ratings agency has downgraded Malaysia’ssovereign credit rating outlook from stable to negative. The Malaysian ringgit slid to three-yearlows against the US dollar and to 15-year lows against the Singapore dollar; these slides may generate inflationary pressures. The government announced 10.5 percent and 11 percent hikes respectively in the prices of subsidized 95 RON gasoline and diesel on 3 September, and it is likely that further measuresto strengthen the country’s fiscal position will be introduced.

Key points: The status quo will persist, with conservatives gaining control of the UMNO supremecouncil. Budget 2014 will see the introduction of a GST and the scaling back and rescheduling of publicly funded projects.

The Chinese have to live with the consequences of their vote for Anwar’s group. The Indian community (which marginally supported BN) must be sore with the Chinese.

Related articles:

Other Asean round-up news:

Vietnam R Sembcorp (belated)

UNDETERRED by the many challenges facing Vietnam’s economy, Sembcorp has once again upped its investment in the socialist republic – this time by building central Vietnam’s first large-scale industrial park worth US$337.8 million.

This latest of five Vietnam-Singapore Industrial Parks (VSIPs) is sited in Quang Ngai province, about 90 minutes’ flight south of Hanoi. It offers manufacturers a new and alternative investment locale that is away from Vietnam’s northern and southern regions, where labour markets are tighter and costs continue to rise.

VSIP Quang Ngai will take shape in the form of a 1,120ha industrial park and integrated township; the industrial park will take up 600ha, with the other 520ha slated for commercial and residential purposes. BT 14th August: PM was in Vietnam BTW.

Thailand is to hand over rice and rubber in part-payment for its new high-speed rail system, it’s reported.

The country’s transport minister is expected to formally agree the barter deal with Chinese premier Li Keqiang … The project to link Bangkok with Nong Khai, close to the Laos border, is part of a proposed 2m baht ($30bn, £19bn) infrastructure investment programme to part-financed with agricultural products. The railway is one day envisaged to link Thailand with the Southern Chinese province of Kunming, via the Laos capital Vientiane.

Why anti-PAP paper activists needn’t get shriller

In Humour, Political governance on 09/10/2013 at 4:44 am

A rabid anti-PAP paper activist posted this on Facebook:

LHL is out of touch with reality on the ground. It is very clear that he has refused to learn.

Now no matter whether he cry, say sorry, beg for forgiveness – Aljunied & Punggol East will be repeated all over Singapore in 2016.

He was referring to PM’s tv appearance on 24 September. There were lots of similar comments on Facebook and on TRE and TOC (Surprising very few people post on TRS, making its claim that it represents the real S’porean sound true, apathetically and KS). Increasingly, the tone of many of the “usual suspects” including many of the the Magnificent 7, are getting shriller and shriller, and angrier and angrier. Are they trying to drown out their doubts that maybe the govt is winning the battle of ideas and votes?

Maybe the anti-PAP paper activists are realising that the govt has realised that for many S’poreans especially the PMETs the link between economic growth and living standards is broken, and is trying hard to addressing the issue (Related (Worse, perhaps, the govt has read that a Nobel prize winner in  economics, Stiglitz, makes a very bold assertion that inequality is economically inefficient and that it’s bad for society? And now believes in pursuing a more equal society, rather than juz chasing for votes.)

In the words of the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (ISEAS), a govt-funded think tank, in its Oct Asean Monitor

The National Day Rally Speech in August offered the clearest indication to date of how the People’s Action Party will try to win back the ground that it lost in the 2011 general elections. With tweaks to the national health insurance scheme, to housing subsidies for the middle class and to primary school admissions and national examinations, the ruling party has opted to recalibrate social and welfare policies to address middle-class concerns instead of relaxing its stance on civil liberties or freedom of expression. Having chosen this path, it may not be inappropriate to expect more populist policy shifts, designed to appeal to the middle ground, in the run-up to the 2016 elections.

Interestingly, it goes on to say

These policy tweaks were, in part, the result of public feedback gleaned from the year-long nationwide public clinics collectively known as Our Singapore Conversation. While understandably touted by government leaders and the local media as a sign of more consultative politics, the litmus test will be whether such conversations are a one-off event and whether divergent public desires and government interests can ever be reconciled.

So our paper activists still can dream on that the PAP will lose support. So chill out a little, to avoid health problems. After all, assuming they are mostly ordinary S’poreans, if they get strokes or cardiac attacks, they will have to use the “subsidised” healthcare system. I’m sure that that tot when suffering a stroke or heart attack, will make them even angrier, and sicker, making the attack worse. They are using the very system that they “condemn”. Of course, they may all have expensive private healthcare insurance like the elite, though I doubt it.

The report then highlights a fault line that the anti-PAP activists ignore because they are in the main on the side of the social activists (a notable exception is Berrie, the Muslim bear from S’pore and Canada).

With a promising GDP forecast for this year, the economy will take a back seat to emerging socio political issues. One such issue is the struggle between gay rights activists and moral conservatives.

This tension has existed for some time, but a recent request from pastors for an audience with the law minister after the latter met with a gay rights group suggests that the push-back from moral conservatives will grow stronger. Another emerging issue is the increasingly political nature of heritage conservation in the city-state. With heritage issues now fronted more and more by the young and well educated, the key question is whether heritage will become a vote winner for the youth demographic.

It then talks of an issue close to the hearts of social activists, and Gilbert Goh and friends, for different reasons: Finally, civil society’s response in the aftermath of the November 2012 bus strike by several Chinese drivers suggests that the championing of social justice for vulnerable migrant workers — the likes of which Singapore has not seen since the 1980s — is now re-emerging as a pertinent issue.

It ends with hope for the paper activists who “die,die” want the PAP out:  Key points: The demand for greater political pluralism will continue to grow. The question is how different interests can be managed or, indeed, if they require state intervention at all.

So anti-PAP paper activists, time to sound less shrill, and less full of hate. A govt statutory board is telling you history is on yr side. Change is a’coming. If you want the new S’pore to reflect yr values, be rational, not emotional. Could even help you avoid having to use the healthcare system you hate.

Another “best” analysis from a govt funded think-tank

In Political governance on 26/09/2012 at 5:25 am

ISEAS is technically a stat board (and it receives regular govt funding), so one would have tot it would produce Institute of Policy Studies/ ST kind of constructive, nation-building BS analysis. But it has again surprised* with this from its latest ASEAN Monitor (a quaterly publication). Power to ISEAS’ academics and staff. IPS should learn from it on how to avoid writing rubbish that does it no gd.

Very few countries are as self-conscious as Singapore. This is true for image as well as policymaking. The education minister and former economist, Heng Swee Kiat, has been tasked by the Prime Minister to lead a committee of younger ministers to review policies across the board, ostensibly to better prepare the country for the next 20 years. The challenge would be to enthuse the general public who may have come accustomed to such ‘re-thinking committees’ which have, over the years, included the Economic Review Committee (2001) and the Remaking Singapore Committee (2002).

A potentially divisive issue brewing is the ruling by the Court of Appeal to allow a legal challenge to 377A of the penal code which criminalises sex between men. In 2010, Tan Eng Hoon was arrested and charged under Section 377A for engaging in oral sex in a shopping mall toilet. Tan, represented by human rights lawyer M Ravi, applied to the High Court to declare Section 377A unconstitutional because it violates Article 12 of the Constitution which guarantees equal protection and treatment under the law; an application the High Court subsequently turned down.

The Court of Appeal has, however, overruled the High Court, and decided that there are sufficient grounds on which 377A may be legally challenged. The legality of homosexual acts is an emotive one given the significant Christian and Muslim communities. Observers may recall the highly, not to mention religiously, charged parliamentary debates over 377A five years ago and conclude that old wounds may soon be scratched open.

Finally, after years of campaigning from local activists, the government announced that the death penalty would no longer be mandatory for certain drug trafficking cases. If the courts are satisfied that the drug trafficker was not involved in drug distribution activities, cooperated substantially with the authorities or suffers from amental disability, the judge may exercise discretion. This qualified concession, nevertheless, represents a small victory for activists who will be encouraged to further press for the abolishment of the death penalty. Their growing momentum may soon see signs of a conflict between progressive and conservative forces shaping up within the country.

Key points: The country is becoming increasingly polarised over a vast variety of issues from politics to morality. Expect more frequent debate and confrontation, not necessarily always playing out in the mainstream media.


*Other posts containing ISEAS’ analysis on S’pore

Vietnam: “A toxic cocktail”

In Vietnam on 22/09/2012 at 3:17 pm

From the September issue of the ISEAS ASEAN monitor

“A toxic cocktail” – the words of economist Le Dang Doanh – aptly describe Vietnam’s situation for the fourth quarter of 2012. The ingredients are economic stagnation, banking scandals, political insecurity caused by Party rectification and anti-corruption drives, and challenges to Vietnamese sovereignty in the South China Sea. Party rectification aims to curb abuses of power and corruptive behaviour by government officials in cahoots with businesses to enrich both sides. Politician banker, Nguyen Duc Kien, and the head of the Asia Commercial Bank, Ly Xuan Hai, have been arrested. Notably, while the rumour mill has for years linked Kien to Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung, the Chief of Police has declared that it was the Prime Minister himself who directed the arrests. Earlier reports gave credit to the Minister for Public Security but the order probably came from the Political Bureau.

The arrested pair of Kien and Ly could reveal the extent of illegal activities in the banking sector. Rumours are pointing to imprudent bank loans arranged by Kien, as well as his role in the merger/acquisition of another bank, an act perceived as political bullying. In the next two months there will be an intense struggle over how the official reports regarding Party rectification should be written. Individual leaders would want to avoid blame, and most important, retain their positions. Party rectification would also go down to provincial level and lower. Greater conservatism and caution in officials’ behaviour, if only to avoid making mistakes, leading to riskaversion,is to be expected.

The economy has not lived up to earlier optimism. Imports have decreased and analysts note that this would impact negatively on exports in the next quarter. Credit growth is at an unhealthy low while the burst of the real estate bubble has turned speculation into locked investments. Speculators are not realising losses and banks are unable to recover loans. Close to 100,000 companies, mostly from the private sector, have ceased operations.

On this downward spin, there are yet no signs of external help, be it from a buoyant world economy or the IMF. The stagnation is expected to be relieved slightly as the end of the year usually sees a rise in consumption, but the overall trend is a downward one.

Key points: While Vietnam and China appear to have reached a quiet and uncomfortable détente over the South China Sea, expect more bilateral problems as the fishing season resumes this September.

Economist on Vietnam

Vietnam’s banks are in dire shape; and that corruption and waste pervade the economy.

This was never a secret, but during the boom years in the middle of the past decade, when the economy was growing by 8% a year and foreign investment was pouring in, nobody much cared. Now, with slower growth, huge business debts and more competition from places such as Cambodia, Indonesia and Myanmar, the problems loom large. It did not help when, two months ago, the central bank admitted that bad debts amounted to up to 10% of all bank loans, double the level previously admitted to. The real figure could be two or three times that.

The hitch in Hanoi

And so confidence in the Vietnamese economy, especially among Western investors, is tumbling. Foreign direct investment (FDI) into Vietnam, at $8 billion for the first seven months of the year, is a third lower than a year earlier. Japan accounts for fully half of all the inflows.

Burma: Developments this week

In Uncategorized on 21/09/2012 at 6:46 am

Earlier this week, FT reported Burma is to delay the implementation of controversial foreign investment legislation passed this month, but will step up reforms in areas like financial services, land use and government structures.

Seems the president will ask parly to make changes to the foreign investment law. So this compromise did not work.

This is what the ISEAS Monitor (Sept issue) wrote juz before the compromise and its analysis is spot-on.

Myanmar is being confronted with a serious challenge to the rule of law and the integrity of the constitutional arrangement by a controversy over the ruling by the Constitutional Tribunal (CT) regarding the status of parliamentary bodies. It began when parliamentarians insisted that committees, commissions and bodies formed by parliament be accorded the status of “Union” (central) level organisations in order to fulfill their ‘check and balance’ function.

A request to clarify the issue was sent to the President early this year. The Attorney-General, on behalf of the President, submitted the issue to the CT for a ruling. The CT ruled, in February, that the interpretation of committees, commissions and bodies “formed by each Hluttaw [parliament] as Union Level Organisations” was unconstitutional. Many parliamentarians did not accept the verdict and 191 MPs from the Pyithu Hluttaw (PH; lower house) informed its Speaker in April theirintention to table a motion calling for the impeachment of the CT chair and members.

When negotiations to resolve the dispute failed, 301 MPs from the PH again prompted the Speaker, on 8 August, for the impeachment citing breach of constitutional provisions and failure to fulfill their duties. The Speaker sent amessage to the President on 14 August suggesting that the Attorney-General’ssubmission to the CT be withdrawn and the CT chair and members should resign voluntarily before 21 August. The President replied in a message, dated 20 August,to the Speaker that the submission could not be withdrawn because the verdict hadalready been reached and he could not act to make the CT chair and members, who had independently made a decision in accordance with the Constitution, resign as that would be unfair and against the law.

The CT also held a press conference on 20 August to explain its position and reaffirmits commitment to stand by the decision and to carry on its tasks and duties.

Subsequently, it was announced that the impeachment process would be initiatedby the Amyotha Hluttaw (upper house) in the current parliamentary session. The spectre of political division looms.

Key points: The CT and MPs are on a collision course. This could arrest the momentum of much-needed political and economic reforms, and erode the legitimacy of the democratic institution. In the worst case, it could be an excuse for the return of authoritarianism.

Meanwhile, Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who is visiting the US, has said she supports further easing of sanctions against Burma’s government.

And M’sian retailer, Parkson, plans to expand into Burma, despite its not so happy experiences in Vietnam.

Indonesia: More private equity funds are a’coming

In Emerging markets, Indonesia, Private Equity on 05/03/2012 at 5:19 am

Also, buyers from Singapore completed the largest number of transactions as Indonesia witnessed a record year for M&A activity.The 12-month M&A activity for Indonesia ended 31 Jan, 2012, saw 78 transactions worth a total of US$9 billion being recorded, with Singapore-based companies completing nine transactions worth US$372 million, according to global risk management company Kroll and M&A intelligence service mergermarket.

The nine transactions completed by Singapore-based buyers were in a diverse range of industries, highlighting the investment potential in Indonesia. Two transactions were in the energy sector, the rest of the deals were in transportation, consumer food, real estate, construction, financial services, internet and e-commerce, and in other services.

Japan was the most prominent country in the South-east Asian nation’s M&A activity in terms of value and volume, with US$1.1 billion across six deals. The largest Japanese transaction of the year was Mitsui Sumitomo Insurance’s US$827 million, 50% stake acquisition in life insurance provider PT Asuransi Jiwa Sinarmas (Sinarmas Life Insurance), according to the report.

Deals by Asia-Pacific buyers accounted for 72% \of Indonesia’s M&A deal count while 28% of bidders were from outside Asia, with US bidders completing the most transactions,

 Indonesia is expected to see continued strong M&A activity, particularly in the technology, media and telecommunications, financial services, energy and mining & utilities sectors.

But there are problems as highlighted by a corporate governance spat: Indonesian tycoons versus Nat Rothschild.

“Investing in emerging markets is always challenging for investors. Indonesia in particular requires deep local insight into the market and potential target companies, as various reforms continue to raise both opportunities and challenges for potential bidders,” said Kroll.

“Many investors interested in Indonesia tend to seek help from local third-party advisers or partners to assist with administrative functions during a transaction. However these intermediaries may not necessarily have sufficient understanding of global anti-corruption legislation. Overlooking such legislation can lead to costly violations for investors in their home markets … investors also need to be aware of other operational pitfalls that may impact their business such as the state of local infrastructure and the integrity of business partners. These risks often vary according to sector.”

Strikes could also be a problem despite the consumer boom.

Its booming economy also masks its problems with politcal governance and corruption. This is what ISEAS* says about the country in its inaugral ASEAN Monitor dated February 2012


Indonesia is in a period defined simultaneously by stasis and stability. It has yet to move into the next phase of its democratic consolidation, and it is unlikely to do so in 2012.

In fact, several indicators suggest an overall deterioration in earlier democratic achievements. First, the country’s judiciary and police are — and most likely will remain — notoriouslyunpredictable in upholding the rule oflaw. Second, large sections of the bureaucracy are in disarray; they will continue to perform poorly for theforeseeable future. Third, Indonesia’s main political parties have fallen increasingly into internal turmoil over positions of influence and finances.

Those problems and frictions are boundto persist in several important parties in the coming months.

Externally, Indonesia is expected continue playing a fairly minor role despite being the dominant power inSoutheast Asia. This is largely because of the strong emphasis on purely domestic political issues. As the next generalelection and the presidential electionapproach in 2014, all of Indonesia’s political parties will become increasinglypreoccupied with preparations for the polls and the selection of candidates. It must be remembered that an anti-porn bill was introduced in 2008, just before the general election the following year.

The coming months will tell if there is to be a similar populist legislative measure to win conservative votes this time. Overall, it is unlikely that Indonesia’s status as a stable yet static democracy will change substantially during 2012.

Key points: The current consumer boom in Indonesia will continue to mask its problems with corruption. And though Indonesia is less likely to be adversely affected by a global economic slowdownthan other regional countries, will global risk aversion stem the investment inflows it has enjoyed in recent years? Read the rest of this entry »

M’sia: Juz wondering?

In Malaysia on 02/03/2012 at 6:00 am

Wonder if Malaysian tycoon Ananda Krishnan is selling assets (juz put his satellite firm on the market after getting bids for his power plants) because of the expectation of an early general election that could further weaken the governing coalition, or which it could even lose? He benefited over the years from government policies.

In its inaugral ISEAS Monitor, this is what ISEAS* says about M’sia especially the probability of an election soon:

Opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim’s recent acquittal on sodomy charges has dominated the media, and will be asignificant factor in Malaysia’s forthcoming 13th general election.

Barring unforeseen developments,Prime Minister Najib Razak will dissolve parliament and call the election no later than June. Both the Barisan Nasional (BN) government and opposition Pakatan Rakyat (PR) will accelerate preparations for the much anticipated poll.

Although Najib’s administration is saddled with several thorny problems and the election does not have to be held before March 2013, he may feel the need to go early for two reasons.

First, Najib has to consolidate his position within his United Malays National Organisation before UMNO’s own elections are held in the second half of 2012.

The second reason is that a weakening global economy in 2012 can adversely affect largely export dependent Malaysia. With inflation already hurting ordinary Malaysians, a slowing domestic economy will cost votes for the BN. The budget deficit is estimated at 5.4% of GDP in 2011, limiting the government’s ability to provide further stimulus spending in 2012. The government’s hand will be further constrained by the next round of reduction and rationalisation of subsidies, expected soon.

Since 2009, millions of dollars have been spent on public relations efforts to burnish the image of BN and of Najib in particular. The government has awarded bonuses and salary increments to the 1.4 million-strong civil service,and more handouts can be expected in the coming months. In January 2012, Najib toured Perak, Selangor, Penang, Perlis and Perak, as well as the Federal Territory of Kuala Lumpur, to rally support. He is scheduled to visit Terengganu and Johor in February.

UMNO, through the mainstream media,especially the party-owned Utusan Malaysia, and its NGO proxies,spearheaded by PERKASA, can be expected to ratchet up race and religion themes. The mainstream media predictably will publish more reports that detail or generate conflicts within the PR component parties.

For their part, the opposition parties will use the alternative and social media to highlight the government’s corrupt and crony practices. It will promise clean and transparent governance, using the example of members of the Executive Council of the Democratic Action Partyled Penang state government declaring their assets. It will also offer to revise the lucrative terms granted to highway toll operators and independent power plant companies, and pledge to retain if not expand subsidies to ease the plight of Malaysians in anticipation of the economic slowdown.

Key points: What impact will freshly acquitted Anwar have on the elections,especially in view of the prosecution’sdecision to appeal? How are the election results likely to affect relations between Singapore and Malaysia?


*”The Institute of Southeast Asian Studies is a regional research centre dedicated to the study of socio-political, security and economic trends and developments in Southeast Asia and its wider geostrategic and economic environment”. It is also a statutory board whose funding comes from the S’pore government.

S’pore politics: Analysis by stat board

In Political governance on 28/02/2012 at 6:14 am

“The Institute of Southeast Asian Studies is a regional research centre dedicated to the study of socio-political, security and economic trends and developments in Southeast Asia and its wider geostrategic and economic environment”. It is also a statutory board whose funding comes from the government.

In its inaugral ISEAS Monitor, this is what it says about S’pore.


A series of controversies has cast a shadow on the country’s reputation for non-corruption and efficiency. News broke in late January that the chiefs of the Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) and the Singapore Civil Defence Force(SCDF) had been hauled up by the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau for “serious personal misconduct”. This investigation is sandwiched between the jailing of officers from the Singapore Land Authority and Ministry of Home Affairs for fraud in November 2011 and January 2012, respectively, and news that civil servants, including a school principal, have been clients of an online prostitution operation.

In addition to these high-profile investigations, the proceedings of the Commission of Inquiry into the majo breakdown of the country’s train system last December will soon begin. Already the recent assessment by international experts that Singapore’s drainage designstandards still lag behind those in other places, to explain the regular flooding on the island, put relevant state agencies in a poor light.

The coming months will see the government and the mainstream media attempt to protect and restore the reputation of state agencies and adminstitutions. The government will not down-play these controversies but, instead, seek to win public confidence by demonstrating as clearly as possible how swiftly justice is meted out tooffenders, while bold regulatory steps are implemented to minimise future organisational failings.

Meanwhile, the country’s most established opposition party, the Workers Party, has been rocked by its

expulsion of Yaw Shin Leong, the Member of Parliament for Hougang.

Yaw, who is married, had been rumoured to have had an affair with a married member of the party. His refusal to address these allegations, in addition to rumours of relations with other women, led to his dismissal on grounds of accountability and transparency. His expulsion will trigger a by-election to be called at the Prime Minister’s discretion.

Key points: As there is no fixed time within which a by-election must be held,political calculations will take over. A by-election in the next few of months will probably be to the Workers Party’s advantage given its strong showing in the general elections last year. Calling the by-election later – in a year or two – may be to the ruling party’s advantage as the conspicuous absence of an 0pposition MP in Parliament will serve as a public reminder of the controversy.

I agree with its analysis on how the government and MSM will protect and restore the reputation of state agencies and adminstitutions. The government will not down-play these controversies but, instead, seek to win public confidence by demonstrating as clearly as possible how swiftly justice is meted out tooffenders, while bold regulatory steps are implemented to minimise future organisational failings.

But I disagree that delaying a bye-election is to the government’s advantage by reminding S’poreans about the WP’s failings. If anything, it will remind S’poreans of the democracy “deficit” here.